Watson sheds tear in his goodbye at Augusta
April 08, 2016
By Mike McAllister , PGATOUR.COM
- Tom Watson reacts after completing his final round at Augusta National during the second round of the 2016 Masters Tournament. (Harry How/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Tom Watson told us he wouldn’t cry. He told us his last call at Augusta National would mirror his final round at St. Andrews nine months ago, when he crossed the Swilcan Bridge and waved to the adoring Scots, revealing nothing but that famous gap-toothed grin.
Friday was different. As Watson walked toward the 18th green, a messy seven-bogey scorecard securing a missed cut in his final Masters, he turned to caddie Neil Oxman and offered thanks for a job well done. Watson’s affection for his caddies extends back to his days with Bruce Edwards, whose tragic death from ALS in 2004 remains a defining moment in Watson’s life.
In fact, a day earlier, Watson had left a wrapped egg-salad sandwich on the bench at the 13th tee. It was in memory of Edwards, who would sit and eat his sandwich while waiting for the fairway to clear. Watson started the tradition 11 years ago, always in the first round.
Now Watson paid tribute to Oxman. There was no sandwich, but the words of appreciation were simple, the meaning deep. Oxman did more than just carry his bag; he’s a friend and confidant, someone to lean on when times are tough, whether inside or outside the ropes. And there, during that private moment in front of thousands of fans, Watson couldn’t help himself.
He shed a tear.
“It was special to be able to walk up,” Watson said. “He was going to plow out ahead of me and let me have my glory. I said no way, you’re walking up the last hole with me.”
For most of the day, Watson concentrated on making the cut, hoping to extend his time at Augusta National another two rounds. His putting on Thursday suggested there was a chance, as he posted a respectable 74. His putting on Friday proved otherwise.
Yet his decision to end his competitive career at Augusta National after 43 appearances and two wins is not based on his putter but his driver. At age 66, Watson no longer has the length to play the Masters. That was evident even before his round, during his practice range session. Shots aimed at the farthest practice green 210 yards out were landing on the far side … but just barely.
His final hole also reflected his limitations. When Watson stepped onto the teebox, he focused on the group in the fairway and said to no one in particular, “I can hit it but I can’t get there. ”After his 241-yard drive, Watson needed a fairway wood to reach the pin 207 yards away. Perhaps due to a last bit of adrenaline rush, his approach landed 66 feet past the pin; only a brilliant birdie attempt that he nearly holed helped him save par.
“That’s the reason I’m not playing here anymore,” he said later. “These kids are hitting it up there and they’re hitting 7- and 8-irons on 18, and I’m back there trying to hit a 3-wood.
“It’s a little bit out of my league now, the golf course.”
The patrons didn’t care. They showered Watson with affection at every step. As he headed toward the first tee a quarter past noon, the applause began to crescendo. He tipped his cap, then made some small talk. But nothing seemed small on this day. The starter asked him how many Masters he had played in. “43,” Watson replied. “It’s a very special place.”
Upon reaching each green, Watson was greeted with a standing ovation. His strolls down each fairway had fans doffing their caps. Shouts of “Thank you, Tom” were commonplace. Despite still grinding to make the cut, Watson felt their love.
Asked about the emotions of the day, Oxman replied, “It was emotional in the sense they were giving him pretty good ovations at the greens. But you still must do your job, get your yardages.”
As much as this week was about saying goodbye, it was also about relationships.
The relationship Watson has with the patrons, who have perfected the art of the proper sendoff.
The relationship he has with his fellow Masters winners; he cherishes the Champions dinner and will always return to Augusta for that. It's no wonder Ben Crenshaw waited with his wife to see Watson's final hole. So did Raymond Floyd.
The relationship he has with his family; they greeted him as he walked off the 18th green, a series of long hugs prolonging the walk to the scorer’s room. "It's been a nervous week," said one family member. "But a happy one too. We're all very proud of him."
The relationship he has with his fellow competitors, the older ones and the young ones. Patrick Reed paid his respects on the range; Rickie Fowler did the same on the practice green. Lee Westwood, one of the European's Captains Picks who helped defeat Watson's Team USA at the 2014 Ryder Cup, was glad to be along for the ride as a playing partner.
While walking down the 15th fairway, Westwood turned to Watson and asked if he remembered the first time the two had played together. It was 20 years ago in Japan at the Dunlop Cup. Watson shook his head no.
"I can't believe it," Westwood told the media later, his quick wit setting up a sarcastic quip. "I can't believe a big moment like playing with me for the first time had slipped his mind."
In truth, Westwood figured Friday would be special as soon as he saw the draw. "I enjoyed the moment, probably not as much as he did, but I certainly enjoyed it," he said.
And then there's Watson's relationship with six-time Masters champ Jack Nicklaus, their fierce competition only exceeded by their friendship. Earlier in the week, Watson joined Nicklaus and Gary Player for the Par 3 Contest, with Nicklaus indicating the trio will continue to show up every Wednesday at the Masters.
It was in 2005 that Nicklaus said his goodbye at St. Andrews. Watson was his playing partner. Nicklaus held his emotions in check that day. Watson didn’t.
“I was crying like a baby,” Watson said. “Here is the greatest player who’s ever played the game. He’s taking his last walk, and I’m lucky enough to be in the same group, being able to walk inside the ropes with him.
“That was really special. I still tear up thinking about that.”
Watson didn’t tear up at his own goodbye at St. Andrews, and he didn’t expect to do so Friday. But this was not just a farewell to the Masters; it was a farewell to his PGA TOUR career. He won’t be playing against the kids anymore.
And so he shed that tear with Oxman, then walked to the edge of the 18th green, stopped and applauded the patrons.
Finally, he pointed to them and touched his heart, just as he has touched theirs for the past four decades.
Tom Watson comments after Round 2 of the Masters